Patrick Chung and Rashad Johnson, two of the top safety prospects in this year's NFL draft, experienced diverse but humble beginnings to their college careers.
Whichever team drafts Oregon's Chung this weekend, it shouldn't be a surprise if he winds up starting as a rookie.
Being ahead of the curve is nothing new for the 5-foot-11, 212-pounder. He was just 16 when he reported to Eugene, Ore., for football practice in 2004.
"It was cool," Chung said. "It was a bunch of grown guys out there. They were always picking on me, calling me 'little man.' But it was good-natured. You've got to adjust real fast, though. You can't let anything intimidate you."
Chung started school in Jamaica, where age and grade levels are ahead of those in the states, so when his family moved to California when he 10, he was a grade ahead of others that age. After redshirting as a freshman, he started all 51 games the Ducks played the next four years.
He got his driver's license as a senior - in college. Not a problem, according to Chung.
"I wasn't really worried about it," he said. "I was living in the apartments right next to the bus stop, so I took that to school every day."
The 21-year-old Chung could be one of the more versatile safeties in this year's draft, thanks to his extensive college experience and the variety of ways he was utilized.
"I played traditional safety positions and regular defensive coverages, and at rover (a hybrid position)," he said "I can be anywhere. I could be covering the tight end, the slot (receiver), blitzing, being in the box, being deep. Rover is pretty much an 'everything' position."
Like Chung, Johnson also redshirted as a freshman in 2004, but that was more because he was a walk-on who received just one Division-I scholarship offer - from the Citadel.
"I was always an Alabama fan, and I wanted to go there and play," he said. "I went to my mom and my dad, and I told them the dream that I had. They said that they would sacrifice and let me go chase that dream."
Johnson's dream began with him buried on the depth chart - at running back.
"It was probably about seventh-(string), if not eighth," he said. "It was tough."
And his progress was slow at first. He played special teams in 2005 and started four games in '06. But over the past two seasons, the 5-foot-11, 203-pounder started all 27 games, made 183 tackles, broke up 25 passes and had 11 interceptions. He did it by working, practicing and playing harder than the scholarship players ahead of him.
"When I first came in, I was on the field grinding it out every day, and I was having guys telling me to slow down and 'Don't do it that way,' " he said. "I just never listened because those guys were where I wanted to be. Their school was being paid, for and they were getting an opportunity to live out a dream that I wanted to live."
His teammates gradually changed their attitude toward Johnson. Before his junior season, when the entire squad was deciding which seniors would be the coming season's captains, teammate Chris Rogers stood up and nominated Johnson, and he was elected.
"It felt great," Johnson said. "I was really honored that my teammates thought that way about me. Then to get it again (in '08) made me feel even better.
"It makes me feel like the hard work I put in it didn't go unnoticed."
Neither Johnson nor Chung will go unnoticed on draft weekend.
NFL draft preview: Safeties
Bob LeGere breaks down the Bears' depth, draft history and top prospects for the April 25-26 NFL draft.
Bears depth chart: Kevin Payne was second on the team last season with 129 tackles and started all 16 games (12 at strong safety and four at free safety), which is a rarity for a Bears safety, when you consider the injury problems that Mike Brown and Brandon McGowan suffered the past few years. The Bears showed no interest in bringing back Brown and McGowan, who remain in free-agent limbo. But free agents Josh Bullocks (Saints) and Glenn Earl (Texans) were added to the mix to compete with 2008 fourth-round pick Craig Steltz and Danieal Manning, who started 29 games at free safety in his first two years but lost that job last season and wound up as the' nickel back. Zackary Bowman, who was drafter as a cornerback in the fifth round last season, has been moved to safety. Current Grade: C-minus.
Bears 10-year draft history at safety
Year: Player (round)
2008: Craig Steltz (4)
2007: Kevin Payne (5)
2006: Danieal Manning (2)
2005: Chris Harris (6)
2003: Todd Johnson (4)
2002: Bobby Gray (5)
2000: Mike Brown (2)
2000: Mike Green (7)
1999: Rashard Cook (6)
Best pick: Brown
Worst pick: Cook.
|Rating the top Safeties|
|Louis Delmas||W. Michigan||5-11.3||202||4.54||4-year starter who looked at home against big-school guys at the Senior Bowl|
|Patrick Chung||Oregon||5-11.2||212||4.51||Tough, 4-year starter who could be a force in the box from Day One|
|Rashad Johnson||Alabama||5-11.2||203||4.51||Former walk-on has great range to cover the deep half as a FS|
|William Moore||Missouri||6-0.1||221||4.58||FS suffered injury-plagued '08 but has the bulk and toughness to be a SS in NFL|
|Michael Hamlin||Clemson||6-2.0||214||4.61||Lacks some coverage skills but has size to be a factor in the box|
|Chip Vaughn||Wake Forest||6-1.3||221||4.47||Converted WR whose size-speed combo makes him an attractive project|
|Darcel McBath||Texas Tech||6-0.2||198||4.64||Center fielder type with cover skills but lacks bulk to play in the box|
|Curtis Taylor||LSU||6-2.2||209||4.64||Isn't very physical or a very good ball athlete but excel on special teams|
|David Bruton||Notre Dame||6-2.0||219||4.44||One of the stars of the Combine but tests much better than he plays|
|Nic Harris||Oklahoma||6-2.3||234||4.89||Too slow to be anything but an in-the-box SS unless he converts to LB|